★★★½☆ Anouk van Dijk offers astonishing complexity through a fusion of movement and film.

Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne
May 27, 2016

At the core of all great art is a restless enquiry; a searching, questioning intellect that interrogates some facet of the human experience and in doing so, reveals something of its mystery. Anouk van Dijk is an artist whose creativity is unquestionably driven by this same bristling urgency. In fact, it’s sometimes driven at such a breakneck pace that it’s tough for an audience to keep up.  

Her latest work, LUCID, is a study of staggering multiplicity, although it’s premise is, on paper at least, easy enough to grasp. Joining the in vogue trend for integrated camera work on stage (it seems to be mandatory for any new production opening in Melbourne in recent months), LUCID explores our human relationship with screens, and the transposition of our three-dimensional reality into the carefully edited, augmented 2-D fantasy of film and television. Through a combination of clever camera trickery, superbly crafted lighting (by Ben Cobham), and some low-fi FX, this incredibly innovative piece of physical theatre examines how the screen can warp our most primitive instincts, such as our capacity for empathy, our sexual impulses or our basest fears.

Photo: Pippa Samaya

It features just two performers – dancer Lauren Langlois and actor Stephen Phillips – but thanks to several screens and a network of roving cameras, these meagre resources are multiplied and amplified, blown up on the big screen, captured and reproduced in myriad ways from distant angles to unflattering closeups. While their bodies and faces are projected or piped to televisions around the stage, these two performers dart about, sometimes in plain sight, other times obscured.

Various scenarios play with the friction between reality and artifice. A woman’s expressions are coldly dissected by a ruthless, chauvinistic director type; a lipstick smeared face attempts to contort itself into some gruesome B-movie monster, while in front of us we see the harmless truth of the very human performer; two faces are layered and combined to create a third face in flux. Repeatedly, but with great variety, our understanding of these two characters are challenged and distorted as our emotional appreciation of them is pulled across a spectrum in search of something authentic. The very fact that our opinions of these two figures are so itinerant makes a statement about how easily coerced we are by the seduction of the screen.

While not particularly rigorous in a choreographic sense, Van Dijk is uncompromising with the physical demands of this piece. Its two performers sprint and scuttle, hurl themselves to the floor, heads spinning furiously. They smoke cigarettes (no-hands) before yanking a huge revolving screen in an arc across the space. It’s a massive physical effort, evident in the sweat pouring from both performers, which adds to a constant duality underpinning this work: it is at once chaotic and grimy, and yet meticulous in its cinematic precision.

Photo: Pippa Samaya

The delivery of every component is extremely impressive, especially the level of finesse between the projected elements, the real-time manipulation of video, and the control of the technical aspects on stage. However, there are moments where information overload acts to muddy the clarity of these statements. LUCID poses several competing yet equally profound intellectual and philosophical questions at once; it fuses and laminates different artistic mediums and performance practices; it superimposes different perspectives and vectors simultaneously. Technically, cerebrally and emotionally, it’s a piece that thrums with insight and brilliant invention, but it can often feel like an overwhelming amount of information to assimilate. Some elements add to the confusion, such as a collection of masks hung behind the screen that suggests an in-joke we’ll never be party to. This can prompt a lingering anxiety that perhaps some crucially important moment was lost among the crowd of ideas.

Ultimately, the questions asked by LUCID are rhetorical, their tangents too numerous to resolve neatly, and so we are left to grasp an elusive conclusion on our own. Perhaps the most important question, therefore, is, does this matter? The answer is of course, no. LUCID is a work both eloquent and brash, viscerally elaborate and intellectually taut, but most of all it is, quite simply, beautiful to watch.


Chunky Move presents LUCID at Chunky Move Studios until June 12.

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